One of our recommended books is Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

BLACK BROTHER, BLACK BROTHER


From award-winning and bestselling author, Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age story about two brothers, one who presents as white, the other as black, and the complex ways in which they are forced to navigate the world, all while training for a fencing competition.

Framed. Bullied. Disliked. But I know I can still be the best.

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother,

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From award-winning and bestselling author, Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age story about two brothers, one who presents as white, the other as black, and the complex ways in which they are forced to navigate the world, all while training for a fencing competition.

Framed. Bullied. Disliked. But I know I can still be the best.

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school and arrested for something he didn’t do.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what.

As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

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  • Little, Brown Young Readers
  • Hardcover
  • March 2020
  • 240 Pages
  • 9780316493802

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$16.99

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About Jewell Parker Rhodes

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, winner of a Coretta Scott King Honor, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and the New York Times-bestselling Ghost Boys. She has also written many award-winning novels for adults. When she’s not writing, Jewell visits schools to talk about her books and teaches writing at Arizona State University.

Praise

“A powerful work and must-have for children’s collections.” Booklist, starred review

“Placing biracial boyhood and the struggles of colorism at its center, the novel challenges readers to pursue their own self-definition.” —Kirkus

“An excellent selection for both elementary and middle library collections, this is a title that celebrates finding one’s place in the world.” —School Library Connection, starred review

“Donte’s story is a good primer for younger readers on microaggressions.”—School Library Journal

“A classic sports story.”—BCCB

“This novel offers a solid story, with relatable, three-dimensional characters considering identity, that will teach readers about colorism’s effects.” —Publishers Weekly

Discussion Questions

1. Donte and Trey have a strong brotherly bond. How do they make space for one another? How do they include each other?

2. How do Donte and Trey’s friends support them? What specific actions do they take to make Donte and Trey feel safer and more included at school? What do you think it means to be an ally?

3. How do people react to Trey and his dad compared to Donte and his mom?

4. Fencing is described as an elite sport. What barriers make fencing difficult for more people to get involved in?

5. Coach eventually reveals his personal history with fencing to Donte. How do these revelations about Coach’s past affect Donte’s decisions in the present? How does Donte benefit from having Coach as a role model?

6. How does Donte change as he learns to fence? In what ways does he begin to think differently?

7. Donte remarks that he’s “got to be careful” walking around his neighborhood (p. 33). Why does Donte think this? How does this awareness affect his interactions with authority figures like his headmaster and the police?

8. The Middlefield Prep school motto is non nobis solum, which the headmaster translates as “not for ourselves alone” (p. 194). Do you think Middlefield lives up to this motto? How so?

9. Zarra tells Donte about the Alexandre Dumas biography The Black Count. How do the stories we are told impact how we view the world? Does history always show us the full story?

10. Through training, Donte discovers that fencing is a sport based on rules and etiquette. How can you apply the rules of fencing, namely “courage, honor, integrity, and chivalry,” to your everyday life (p. 189)?

Excerpt

1
THE CRIME

BLACK BOY

I wish I were invisible. Wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak or Frodo Baggins’s Elvish ring. Whether shrouded in fabric or slipping on gold, it wouldn’t matter to me. I’d be gone. Disappeared.

I stare at my hands. Nighttime dark. They have a life of their own. Clenching, unclenching. Fist then no fist. I keep my shoulders relaxed; my face, bland. My hands won’t behave.

No science fiction or fantasy is going to help me. I live in a too-real world.

Sitting, I stare at the black specks on the white linoleum. A metaphor? That’s what they’re teaching me in English. Metaphor. Except I won’t believe I’m just a black speck. I’m bigger, more than that. Though sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in whiteness.

Most of the students at Middlefield Prep don’t look like me.

They don’t like me either.

I look up. The secretary, Mrs. Kay, even the assistant headmaster, Mr. Waters, with his tartan tie, avert their eyes. They’ve been staring, wondering:

How come he gets in so much trouble? Why can’t he be good like his brother? Helpful? Obedient.

Under my breath, I curse. My stomach twists.

Be invisible.

My insides burn. Anger builds. This has nothing to do with me.

I’m not here. Donte is not here.

My right foot taps uncontrollably. If I sit any longer, I’ll explode.

“Donte,” Headmaster McGeary says warily.

I stand. “Sir.” (Be cool, I tell myself.)

“It’s 2:46 PM. Couldn’t you have finished the day without getting in trouble?”

This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go down. He’s supposed to call me into his office. Shut the door, talk privately with me.

Now he’s scolding me in public.

The headmaster’s eyelids are heavy, puffy. He’s tired, but I’m tired, too. Every week, I’m punished for something I didn’t do.

I clutch my left fist with my hand. It’s still trying to move, open and shut. My right leg trembles.

Mr. Waters smirks; the secretary’s eyes show pity. Pity pushes me over the edge.

“I didn’t do anything,” I blurt. “Like the time before, and the time before that. And the time before that. I didn’t do anything.”

The two men grow taller, rigid. Bracing, readying to take me down. They don’t like me too loud.

I exhale. My dad’s been to war. Two tours. No matter what I do, I’m outflanked.

I quiet my voice, try to speak reasonably.

In my head, I hear: Speak truth to power. Mom’s favorite phrase. Then, Dad adding, Respectfully.

I try to still my body. But I feel a trembling in my hands, up my spine.

The wall clock’s minute hand clicks. 2:48 PM.

“I hate this school,” I say softly, slowly, trying to make them understand.

“Hate no matter what goes wrong, I’m at fault. Some guy overturns a chair; it’s my fault. My locker’s broken into; my supplies scattered, dumped in the trash. My books ripped. I get detention. And a library fine.”

My voice races, rises.

“In gym, playing ball, I get called for fouls all the time. But nobody is called when I’m fouled.”

My hands clench, unclench.

“Everybody here bullies me. Teachers. Students. Whispers, sometimes outright shouts follow me. Seems like everybody has something bad to say: ‘You dress thug.’ ‘Your dreads are dreadful.’ Girls laugh and point at me. ‘Why can’t you be like your brother?’ ‘Can your brother find you in the dark?’” I breathe. “It hurts. All of it.”

I stop. My stomach churns.

Three faces. Mr. Waters is grim. Mrs. Kay, embarrassed by my outburst, looks down, pulling her ear.

The headmaster’s cheeks flush, his eyes glare.

I’ve lit the fire. I need Harry’s Invisibility Cloak. Need to disappear, escape this bright office with its stacked trophy case and laminated Massachusetts map with a stenciled #1 above two crossed swords.

Headmaster McGeary steps forward. “You don’t get to bring your New York behavior here. You don’t get to yell at me or anyone else.”

“I didn’t yell at you.”

“Are you contradicting me?”

“No. Frustrated,” I say, exasperated. “You didn’t even ask me how I got here. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in trouble.”

“You are in trouble.”

“Ask me what I did.”

He frowns.

“Ask me what I did,” I insist.

Nothing.

The clock clicks another minute. The office door opens. Dylan, a classmate, stops, looks, walks backward, then shuts the door. (Come back, I want to call.)

Nine minutes until school ends.

“I didn’t do anything. Not ever. Not today.”

“Seventh grade. Six more years at Middlefield. I suggest you learn to get along.”

“I try to get along. Everyone’s been against me since I started. Especially Alan. Today, he throws a pencil. It hits Samantha. I didn’t throw it. Sam screams. Ms. Wilson turns from the whiteboard and looks at me. Me. Nobody else.

“And now I’m here. You don’t even ask me what happened. You don’t care. You don’t.” I slap angrily at my tears.

Mrs. Kay stands. Her eyes are kind. I think she might comfort me.

The headmaster waves her away, then sighs. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

Fury, roiling spasms. It hurts to breathe. (Get control, I tell myself.)

I bend, trying to hide my pain. Quiet my hands.

“Your brother is a good boy.”

(Keep it together.)

Five more minutes to go. Three o’clock. Not fair. Not fair. The words rattle in my head.

My backpack is on a chair. I pick it up.

I hate, hate this school. Hate our family moved. Hate how people treat me.

A murmur, then a roar: “I hate being me.”

Disgusted, I swing my backpack. Bam. It slams at my feet.

“Call security,” says Mr. Waters.

Mrs. Kay backs away. She’s scared. Of me.

I cringe.

“No, the police,” says Headmaster.

He’s done with me.

The plan all along. Get me out of Middlefield Prep.

 

THE WALK

I’m not invisible. Worst time ever not to have a superpower.

School buses—not the yellow kind—are boarding. These buses are called “coaches.” They even have Wi-Fi and TV screens built into the seats. Parents pick up kids in SUVs, Mercedes-Benzes, and Teslas. Some kids order Ubers, Lyfts. No bikes or skateboards here.

All students wear blue blazers with gold buttons. Each blazer has a badge with the initials MP, two swords making an X, and Non Nobis Solum.

Seeing me, flanked by cops, the crowd quiets.

Even though white plastic circles my wrists, pulling my hands behind my back, tight, I keep my head high.

There are dozens of people. Might as well be hundreds. Folks are snapping pictures, recording videos. By evening, everyone will know the new kid—Donte Ellison—was arrested.

“Donte, Donte, what’d you do?”

I scowl.

“Get out of the way, kid,” says the officer, his hand on my back, pushing me forward faster.

“He’s my brother,” answers Trey.

Bewildered, the officer stops, studies Trey. “You have a black brother?”

Quick, like lightning, Alan repeats, “Black brother, black brother.”

I wince.

The officer opens the car door. My head is pushed down, and my body follows, collapsing, folding into the patrol car. The other officer gets behind the wheel.

“What’d you do?” Trey’s yell penetrates the glass.

I turn from my brother’s face. He should know I didn’t do anything.

The second officer gets in the car. Steel mesh and unbreakable glass separate the front seat from the back. I’m sitting on hard vinyl. There aren’t any handles to unlock the back doors.

“I’m sorry. Donte. I’m sorry.” My brother taps the window, trying to get me to look at him. “I know you didn’t do anything. Didn’t do a thing.”

“Hey,” shouts the cop, rolling down his window. “Son, you don’t want to get involved in this.”

Trey stops tapping. I look at him. Miserable, he stands, looking lost, on the curb.

Even if my hands were untied, there’s no tab for me to lower the window. I could shout, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” Though I’d be lying.

I don’t want Trey to feel bad, but I do want him to feel bad. I keep quiet.

The car moves. Students swarm behind my brother. Some even run behind the police car as it slowly navigates past gawking people, parked and stopped cars, and limo coaches.

“Don’t want to hurt anybody,” the nondriving officer says.

Alan slaps the window.

“Get away, kid,” the second officer shouts.

I turn away. Alan slaps the window again to make me look at him. (As if he knows no policeman will ever arrest him.)

“Hey. Black brother.”

Trey dashes forward, shoving him away. But the damage is done.

Pumping a fist, Alan leads his fencing crew. “Black brother, black brother.” Louder, then louder still. They jog on either side of the patrol car.

Head low, hands cuffed, I can’t escape. Nowhere to hide.

Day one, Alan made school miserable for me. “King Alan,” they call him. Captain of the fencing team. He says “black” like a slur. Says it real nasty. Like a worse word. A word he thinks but doesn’t dare say.

When he met Trey, he laughed, pointing at me, mocking. “Black brother. Black brother.”

My new nickname. The whole school seemed to whisper it. Or else thought it.

Funny, how with two words, Alan made it easier for kids to exclude me. If I sat in the cafeteria, students moved. No one invited me to a study group. Or offered to be friends. No one even wanted to talk with me.

Alan, the cool kid, had drawn a line, and sucking up to him, everyone turned against me.

“Let’s go,” says the cop. The car picks up speed down the long, tree-lined driveway. Alan and his teammates can’t keep pace. Some hunch, catching their breath. Others hold their sides.

I twist around, seeing the gossiping crowd, the swarm of cars, hearing, “Black brother, black brother… Black brother, black brother.” (A warped singsong.)

Alan waves goodbye.

The headmaster stands beneath two flapping flags: the American Stars and Stripes and Middlefield Prep’s blue-and-gold sword insignia. Trey stands on the grassy area that shapes the circular roundabout. He must be cold. Like me, he isn’t wearing a coat. Arms crossed about his chest, blank-faced, he keeps staring at the departing car. Danny, Alan’s lieutenant, taunts him. Shouts—what?—in Trey’s ear.

Trey keeps watching. Trying to see my face in the car’s rear window.

I turn, stare at the traffic, the back of the cops’ heads.

Black brother, black brother… black brother, black brother. The patrol car is beyond school sight. Beyond sound. But the chant still chases me.

It starts to snow.

Crying, my chin touches my chest.

Black is not invisible.